Saturday 21st September 2013 started just like any other Saturday for me, with my daughter and nephew jumping onto my bed shouting “mummy Njoki usiende job” (mummy Njoki please do not go to work today…!) and I mumbling with one eye open “sawa” (ok). And I went back to sleep.
Fast forward to 2pm and I am all excited and truly looking forward to a Chinese concert – dubbed Experience China in Kenya – I was to attend later that evening with the kids at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre where we would be joining my other STE colleagues. I turned on the TV and see a bullet-ridden van and some people who are crouching holding what looked like rifles. At first I thought it was one of the local TV programmes and I must admit I was quite impressed. That was until I saw the word ‘LIVE’ on the far right corner of the TV and realized it was a live broadcast. I called out to my sister and then slumped and just sat on the couch. Eyes glued to the screen.
Westgate, an upscale shopping mall located in the Westlands area popular with foreigners and tourists was under attack. A terrorist attack. Blood everywhere. Dead bodies. People scared and running around. The Police. The Kenya Defence Forces. Red Cross personnel. Other volunteers. Mayhem. We just sat there, helpless, staring at the scenes unfolding in front of us. Crying silently. The images were just surreal. The plans to experience China in Kenya all but forgotten. Only whispering ‘oh my God’…
The Al Shabaab claimed responsibility of the attack. Kenya had sent her Defence Forces into Somalia and had to pay. This attack was as despicable as it was senseless and cowardly. They killed young children, pregnant mothers and their unborn babies, elderly men and women, youth, everyone and any one in sight. The victims, dead, injured and brutalized, were your day-to-day kind of guys, those you see around you all the time. Why? What had they done wrong? They just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time. That right there could have been me, my children, my family, any of my colleagues. That right there could have been anyone. That is what makes this whole incident mine, and every other Kenyan’s ‘shauri’ (responsibility). And this responsibility, Kenyans took to as readily and naturally as ducks take to water. All TV and Radio stations were asking Kenyans to go and donate blood. The turnout was so overwhelming, hospitals had to turn back hundreds of volunteers as they just could not deal with the supply. By day two all major hospitals countrywide were receiving blood donations; various camps were set up in and around Nairobi and people did not tire, myself included. We donated blood, clothing, water, time, food, cash, you name it. Social media was rife with words and messages of sympathy, condolences, and those of hope. When one of my colleagues called one of our international interns just to find out if she was safe, Carley said she was on her way to donate blood! The coming together of the Kenyans and other nationalities in our hour of devastation and need was exemplary and equal to any that I have seen in other countries that have fallen victims to such a calamity.
Luckily, no one from Save the Elephants was hurt in this attack. However we all know of someone who lost someone, or someone who’s relative was injured or killed and therefore weep, and mourn with the rest of Kenya. Some of our guys visit the mall almost every weekend! Somehow in the midst of all this, as I watched or read about ‘Kenya united in grief’ I remember thinking to myself, our wildlife is under attack too; this is the kind of unity we all need to fight the rampant killing of our elephants by poachers. It therefore comes as a welcome relief to read of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action: Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants.
The attack lasted until 24th September; now Kenya buries her dead; takes toll of the devastation; trying to heal as we grope for answers.
#We Are One.